As Hanukkah Begins, Check Out The World's First LGBT+ Synagogue

The Beth Chayim Synagogue in Los Angeles has supported the LGBT+ community since its opening in 1972.

Worshippers outside the Beth Chayim Chadashim

Last night marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt and is observed for eight nights by the Jewish community around the world. One such synagogue celebrating Hanukkah is the Beth Chayim Chadashim or the House of New Life Synagogue in Los Angeles. Additionally, the BCC is considered to be the world’s first LGBT+ synagogue.

On the BCC’s website, the synagogue, which was founded in 1972, describes itself as “an inclusive community of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual Jews, and our families and friends”.

LGBT+ activist Lisa Edwards, spoke to Buzzfeed about what it means to be Beth Chayim Chadashim’s first openly gay Rabbi:

“It’s been such a blessing in my life. I’ve been so blessed and lucky that I was of the age I was and had the opportunity to serve this community, this congregation, these people. It’s been the blessing of my life.”

Hugh Lane

Rabbi Edwards regularly rallies against all forms of discrimination, while using her position in the community to advocate for the LGBT+ community at large. The Jewish Daily Forward named Edwards one of the 36 “Most Inspiring Rabbis”, while the City of Los Angeles recognised her as one of the seven “LGBT Leaders and Legends”.

When the California Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional in 2008, Edwards herself officiated over 50 same-sex weddings in what she called the “summer of love”:

“It was powerful to see couples that had been together for a very long time who were getting married for the first time to each other.”

Rabbi Edwards also spoke to Buzzfeed about the diversity and openness of Beth Chayim Chadashim:

“LGBT families have a lot of options in the Jewish community now, thankfully. But the community here is made up of parents who want to be part of it. It’s quite a mix, and it gives such a wide range of experiences to the kids who get to be a part of this community.”

The synagogue regularly incorporates issues pertinent to the LGBT+ community into their services. For instance, on Saturday Bob Levy joined Rabbi Edwards and Cantor Juval Porat at Shabatt Services to speak about World Aids Day.

Moreover, the BCC has been rolling out Project Chicken Soup which distributes over 30,000 kosher meals a year to housebound clients with AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses since the ’80s.

Hanukkah continues nightly until December 10.

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